It all began in Hamburg. In those days Meinolf Ludenbach (German: Meinolf Lüdenbach) was still a small fish - a simple worker at the address book company Intercable-Verlag. Today he is a multimillionaire. He has the sale of entries in trade directories to thank for his fortune. These give the impression to the customers that they are free of charge. In reality they cost hundreds of Euros. Those who do not want to pay are rigorously hounded by Lüdenbach's own debt collecting companies
Today Lüdenbach precides over a corporate empire that has branches in the whole world and operates globally. Each branch faxes daily the latest financial figures to Lüdenbach's present residence in Barcelona. The Swiss Ministry of Economics (Seco) filed a criminal complaint against three of these companies. These are the debt collecting companies Premium Recovery AG from Cham in the Canton of Zug, and Ovag International AG from Meggen in the Canton of Lucerne, as well as the address book swindle publisher Novachannel AG from Lucerne, as revealed by the «Tages-Anzeiger» (see TA, 7,10 and 24 September).
Particularly heavily involved is Ovag International AG that was founded in Switzerland in 1991. It has branches in the United States of America, South Africa and in England. The British Ovag office decorates itself with a former security head of the Waadtländer Kantonalbank, a former British Secret Service officer and other ex-security personnel. On the pay roll one finds also Bob Stewart «Bosnia Bob» who was for a long time the Commander-in-Chief of the NATO troops in Bosnia during the Balkan War.
Since February 2003, the Swiss Federal Prosecution Office has been in possession of a generously documented criminal complaint from a German attorney concerning commercial fraud. The practices of Ovag International AG are mentioned several times in it. In October 2003 the dossier landed on the desks of the police in Lucerne. Nothing happened - the raid that took place in July was not on account of the German criminal complaint but at the initiative of the Economics Ministry (Seco). «I would be much more comfortable if the police could investigate this matter thoroughly» wrote the German attorney to the Swiss authorities. He knew, why, as he was being snooped upon: an aquaintance of his in Latvia had unexpectedly been «interviewed» by an Ovag agent.
Zürich Hospitals Lüdenbach's Customers
While Ovag International AG with its department «Observance 1» was collecting money for years for the misleading directory entry contracts, before this task was taken over by Premium Recovery AG, formed in 2003, the department «Observance 2» was investing in another branch of business: International debt collecting particularly for hospitals. The strategy clearly bore fruit. In the USA the customers of Ovag include the best and largest hospital chains in California, Texas and Florida. According to various people familiar with Ovag the customers include, or have included, besides the financial institutions Citibank and Diners Club (both England), the American hospitals New York Presbyterian, Columbia Presbyterian, John Hopkins, Tenet Healthcare Group, California Pacific, Cedars-Sinai Beverly Hills, Children's Hospital Boston, HCA Tampa Bay and Orange Park, M.D. Anderson, Orlando Regional Healthcare System or Massachusetts General Hospital.
Ovag International AG also has customers in Switzerland. Several Cantonal hospitals have worked with Ovag, including Winterthur, and in the past also the University Hospital Zürich. While Lüdenbach brings Switzerland into disrepute with his publishing companies, at the same time he earns money from public institutions.
In Lüdenbach's companies one keeps meeting characters with colourful pasts. They swap around within the company conglomerate. This is how Frank E. Dohms jumped onto the roundabout: after a short guest appearance at Novachannel he became managing director of the Ovag network. Research in Germany shows that Frank Dohms had played a role in various bankrupt undertakings, and in Topware. Topware will not easily be forgotten by the attorneys in the legal department of Deutsche Telekom. Topware offered a telephone directory CD «D-Info» in the 1990s with copied data, and at a low price in competition to the Telekom original. There followed a legal dispute lasting many years with the Telekom until Topware had to give up that business. In the course of this confusion a former Topware trustee was convicted to several years imprisonment for various economic crimes. Dohms however several years later joined Lüdenbach and now lives in Meggen, Canton Lucerne.
Another Lüdenbach beneficiary is the hobby show jump rider Michael Röwe. He was already in the 1980s in Intercable-Verlag Germany and Intercable Switzerland. After that he became independent with the Pfyffer-Verlag from Zug, which at the end of 1990 after hardly two years ran into bankruptcy. He returned to the Lüdenbach fold. In 1991 he became the boss of Ovag, his wife at that time, audited the books and today Röwe is the director of Novachannel AG
Concerted Wave of Lawsuits
Even now that the Lucerne police are picking Novachannel AG apart, Röwe does not shy from attacking those of his critics in the Internet who run the website www.stopecg.org with threats of huge claims for damages using the international law firm Wragge & Co. Two further Lüdenbach publishers - European City Guide (ECG) from Spain and Construct Data from Austria - in a concerted effort have attempted in the last week also to take the same critics out of service, with the help of the law firms Willoughby & Partners and Field Fisher Waterhouse. At the same time Premium Recovery AG from Cham, who themselves are threatened with adversity, continue to collect money on the swindle contracts as if nothing had happened.
Ovag, Novachannel and ECG not only have illustrious bosses, but in the payment of their own debts the company management seems to be rather lax. An attorney in the American law firm Gallop Johnson & Neumann laid down his representation in trademark matters for these concerns because he had not been paid over an extended period and his clients did not answer letters. This is reported in the files of the United States Patent Office. His bad luck was that the firm had filed suit against the operator of the website www.stopecg.org in 2003 in the name of the Lüdenbach undertaking ECG and lost. They too had the aim of silencing criticism on the Internet.